Thursday, April 26, 2012


SeriouslyI promised I’d blog this. You probably had to be there, but here’s the post anyway.

It was an amusing moment at our Agape (the weekly meal for committed members of the Jesus Army, which includes bible study and bread and wine). Following a study on Jonah and his ungracious attitude towards the ne’er-do-wells of Nineveh (see previous post), we’d been discussing whether there are any people groups we find it hard to accept.

‘So, are there any kinds of people you find difficult?’ asked my fellow leader to one of our members, a clever, computer kid. To spur him on he added, ‘Like – idiots, for instance?’

The question hung in the air half a beat, before I quipped, ‘Have you got a vested interest in that question?’ Everyone laughed (including him; he’s no idiot, but likes a joke, especially at his own expense.) I went on to muse about whether I ought to ask about Liverpudlians (I hail from Liverpool). But no-one was listening by then, amid the hoots of hilarity.

I ought to add: Agape is a serious time of deep heart-sharing and covenant reaffirmation (cough).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jesus Army coming of age

Christian communityTalking to Shane Claiborne when I met him last summer, I said: "Six people were living in community at The Simple Way and you became world famous. There are 600 of us in New Creation Christian Community and we’re not! Why do you think that is?"

If you think the question sounds mildly petulant, perhaps it is! But the tone of our conversation had been so very brotherly that I felt at liberty to let out a wee bit of frustration in the question. Here's what Shane said in answer:

"One of my friendly critiques of the Jesus movement in the US – and I sense you’re a bit like some of those communities – is that when they started they were wonderfully counter-cultural, but they also threw out the rest of the Church. I think maybe some of that was necessary – but I think it also minimised the impact they had on the wider Church.

"Learning from that, we are trying to revitalise and restore some of what’s broken in the Church, a bit like Francis of Assisi’s calling to 'repair the Church which is ruins'. Our discontent with the Church is the very reason we engage rather than disengage. We said 'We are going to stop complaining about the Church we’ve experienced and work on becoming the Church that we dream of – but that also means we’re not giving up on the rest of this dysfunctional family.' I think that’s part of why we’re still invited to preach at Willow Creek and other places.

But I think that the gift of the Jesus Army and other radical communities is in preserving the radical spirit of that counter-culture or contrast society. It’s community on steroids. It moves the Church I think closer to where it should be."

Which was both encouraging - I love being described as "community on steroids" even if I wince a little - and challenging - it makes me feel the need for us to embrace our brothers and sisters everywhere, of whatever Christian "stripe", to learn and to share.

Talking of sisters, I met a nun last week, Sister Catherine (@digitalnun of some fame on Twitter), who said of us in the Jesus Army, "I love what you're doing - but your website's rubbish."

I know, sister, I know. We're working on it.

But later, Sister Catherine said, "Be encouraged. You're coming of age as a community." As someone who belongs to a monastic movement with fifteen hundred years under its communal belt, I take that as quite some encouragment.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jonah moaner

Ever read the Bible and find it's reading you? I found this with Jonah chapter 4 today. Jonah, sulk-full of self-pity is quarelling with God under what Eugene Peterson memorably called 'the unpredictable plant'. A lesson in grace unfolds.

A number of biblical characters quarrel with God. Sometimes they are wrong and earn correction – like Paul; sometimes, they are vindicated and gain God’s approval – like Abraham; sometimes both – like Job.

Jonah quarrels with God because God relented from destroying Nineveh. It is not clear why this made Jonah so angry: maybe because it made Jonah’s message of coming judgement seem untrue; maybe because Jonah saw the (non-Jewish) Ninevites as unworthy of grace.

In fact, grace – undeserved favour – is a key theme here. God’s grace is shown not only in His forgiveness of Nineveh, but also in the way He handles Jonah. He doesn’t blast this sulking prophet for his self-centred anger; He gently asks a question: “Do you do well to be angry?”

Then, just as gently, God teaches Jonah a lesson, using the unpredictable plant, which first grows to shade Jonah and then withers. God helps Jonah to see the smallness of his heart, asking the same pointed question: “Do you do well to be angry...?”

And the book of Jonah is unique among biblical books in that it ends with a question: “And should not I pity Nineveh...?” This puts the challenge not only to Jonah, but also to me: can I see from the perspective of God’s huge, all-embracing, gracious love?

It makes me ask myself questions like: How easily can I accept those who are different to me? How quickly can I forgive? How gentle (rather than swift to correct or rebuke) am I with those who are (as I see it anyway) in the wrong?

We never find out what happened to Jonah, whether he languished in self-pity or learnt the lessons of grace that God was so patiently teaching him.

I can't do much about Jonah anyway. He's long gone. But I can do something about me.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Husband from hell

I was sitting in the giant marquee in which my church holds a festival every Easter. A man walked past me, in the aisle, followed by his wife.

It was a sad sight. He's led a chaotic life, ravaged by drug addiction and psychosis (we see a painful amount of it as the Jesus Army.)

But it was her that was the really sad sight. Thin, drawn, pale. Her life's been hellish because of him. Women's faithfulness can be utterly astounding - sometimes, tragically, to their detriment.

It made me reflect. Often looking at a wife can tell you a lot about her husband. A fulfilled and fruitful wife can be a preacher's very best sermon. Conversely, an unhappy, unfulfilled wife can be an indictment of her husband.

At the time, we were singing a song about the bride of Christ, the church. Jesus rose from the dead, not just to provide us with an excuse to eat chocolate eggs. He didn't even rise from the dead just so that we would have life after death.

He died and rose from death in order to gain a beautiful bride, a church of those being freed from death in all its forms - now, in this life, as well as afterwards.

Every life changed, every life ransomed from death, every life beautified in the bride of Christ - it is to the glory and honour of her Husband.

And so I pray for that couple I saw. May they yet come to a better day, a healing day, a new day. A resurrection day.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A rather wonderful quotation

Sun burst (photo by thesaint of has spoken, and we must speak, of the love of the one, true God. This love of God calls across the dark intervals of meaning, reaches into the depths of human despair, embraces those who live in the shadow of death or the overbright light of present life, challenges the rulers of the world and shows them up as a sham, looks at the present with clear faith and at the future with sure hope, overpowers all powers that might get in the way, fills the outer dimensions of the cosmos, and declares to the world that God is God, that Jesus the Messiah is the world's true Lord, and that in him love has won the victory.

~ N.T. Wright, in his commentary on Romans